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Robots help Brother getting better at recycling

Brother is improving its position as the eco-friendliest supplier of printers and office machines on the market. Brother's old products and ink cartridges can for instance get a new life as garden furniture, herb pots or as dashboards in modern electric cars.

The Danes are not as “green” and environmentally conscious as you would think. Price is still the most important thing when both companies and private individuals want to buy a new printer or an all-in-one printer for the office.

If it is labelled with the Nordic Swan, if it calls for organized reuse of ink cartridges or if it has a significantly lower power consumption than others, come in second or third, when considering to purchase a printer.

However, this fact does not cause Brother to resign. On the contrary. Brother has no difficulty being cost-competitive. But Brother wants to assert its status as the most eco-friendly supplier of printers and other office equipment on the market.

Thus, almost all Brother printers are equipped with the two eco-labels the Nordic Swan and the German Blauer Engel. Both certifications reward products that are eco-friendly both during their production and in daily use. In addition, both require that the products are user-friendly, energy-saving and recyclable.

Brother is now putting the latest industry-leading principles of "Industry 4.0" into use, which means that computers and automation work together in a whole new way with very little input from human operators. In other words, Brother has "employed" robots to make the recycling work at Brother's plants even more efficient.

Brother has reused printer accessories for 14 years. Since 2004, the Japanese printer giant has received more than 15 million empty toners, returned by its customers in Europe alone. It has saved the world for 13,500 tons of waste that would otherwise have ended up at the landfill.

Brother’s customers can return used ink cartridges and toners free of charge, and Brother can also pick up the waste directly at the company addresses of large-scale consumers of toner.

When empty ink cartridges and toners are returned to Brother, each product is evaluated for its recyclability. At Brother this work takes place in Wales and in Slovakia.

Many Brother toners can be re-manufactured into new printers or all-in-one machines.

Empty toners and ink cartridges that are defect and non-recyclable are crushed to granulate. It can then be used as raw material in many other things you use in everyday life. Brother mentions that they are used in new garden tools, garden furniture, herbal pots or even dashboards in cars.

Recycling is, however, very labor and time consuming. For many years, Brother has experimented with the use of robots, machine learning and artificial intelligence to make the recycling process faster, more flawless and more efficient.

Today, Brother has put fully automated production lines into use. Here robots identify, clean, check, adjust, and replace components from old ink cartridges and toners that customers have returned to Brother.

Brother has developed their own robots. It is not possible to use a standard robot in the recycling process like those you see at car factories or in assembly plants for mobile phones.

At Brother’s recycling plants their tasks can be far more challenging. The robots can encounter screws, bolts and fittings that are covered in ink.

The special robot department at Brother has been up and running since 2012. It uses the latest 3D Design programs to create machines that help the world becoming even more eco-friendly every time a toner or ink cartridge is separated and the parts are sorted for different kind of recycling.

The robots run for 24 hours in Brothers factories in Wales, Slovakia and the United States.

Read more about Brother’s recycling activities and sponsoring of projects for  conservation of important natural resorts here.

Further information

Nordic Marketing Director & Sales Director (Denmark) Henning Elkjær, Brother Nordic A/S, phone (+45) 43 31 31 31, email henning.elkjaer@brother.dk or Bomberg PR/Pure PR, phone (+45) 22 67 25 27, email leif@bomberg.dk

Robots Recycling and Industry 40  Linda Litwachteaser